HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 19 – Cuban journalist Jose Alejandro Rodriguez gave a critique last Friday on the status of information and reporting made available to the public by the Cuban media.
Rodriguez, who strongly supports the Cuban revolution, writes commentaries for Juventud Rebelde newspaper and also has a popular section where people write in their complaints usually involving state institutions.
His commentary that follows appeared on the website of the newspaper but was not published in the print edition. It has since been taken off the web archives.
Against the Demons of Hijacked Information
By Jose Alejandro Rodriguez
I’m going to dream, once again. I’m going to imagine that I’ve never pondered this over and over again. I’m going to make myself believe I’ve revealed an unconventional approach. I’m going to convince myself that it’s worthwhile to continue struggling for that neglected creature called information, caught between excessive silencing and control.
The journalist’s mission is to inform. Certainly it’s also to give opinions, portray reality, describe and narrate… but above all it’s to inform. The ability to employ all the genres, forms and techniques of journalism, first requires that one be informed… in order to inform.
Information is the duty of the journalist, and it is the citizen’s right. This is a fact that has been upheld by the Cuban Revolution, and today as never before there is a need to know the terrain on which we step and sow, a landscape pitted with innumerable complexities.
Never as today does this task require the verification and re-verification of the coordinates for navigating life. Never like today has information been required in order to interact with society and participate in it as an active subject, and not like a “pichón” (nestling) -an expression much in vogue these days- awaiting to be fed its exact dose of information from above.
The problem -one we are also experiencing at Juventud Rebelde– is that information doesn’t escape the excessive centralization of our economy and our society in general, something that by no means is a fated genetic component of socialism, as some people believe; instead, this centralization hinders its democratic potential.
Decisions are often made much higher up concerning what to write and report, as well as what not to write about concerning the major issues of society, even when stubborn life marches on below, with all its complexities.
Even at this point, I’m sad to say, the head of a ministry can refuse the requests of journalists and restrict the right to more information (as if assuming the reporters have already tuned in to the official “Round Table” TV news-commentary program to clear up everything – or at least everything the officialdom wants reported). The hyperbolism of the Round Table, presented as the supreme source of information, is an attack on the necessary versatility and variety that distinguishes good journalism. This “RoundTablelization” is a square and solid contribution to the bureaucratization of journalism, with all due respect to the colleagues at that program who are not responsible for that spectacle.
Muzzling and Manipulation
Somebody -and I swear I can’t imagine who that somebody is- can decide to put into practice certain measures in the socioeconomic realm, but they do so without an informational strategy directed toward the subjects of history who will assume it. Examples abound of changes that have been made without providing the needed information though our media.
Take the process of applying for and receiving leases on land, something that will supposedly energize the nation’s agricultural production. There was one moment, two, or three… in which this could not (still can’t?) be reported or barely mentioned. I was told at this publication that this instruction came from above.
Also not reflected in the media was the rich process of debate promoted by President Raul Castro two years ago, though this national discussion was a shining expression of our socialist democracy. But today it is prohibited to mention the contents of that last round of consultation when Party activists and non-card-carrying revolutionaries discuss problems they suffer in their workplaces.
The press was called in to amiably assist in promoting the Resolution on Payment for Output introduced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS). This writer was moved when hearing of an effort to restore the Socialist Distribution Act, from which we had moved so far away. I interviewed the deputy minister of MTSS, who raised hopes that those who work more and better would be able to earn more and live better.
In the end, the application of that resolution was aborted; the bureaucrats refused to get involved with drawing up the regulations and formulas for varying pay rates. Strict egalitarianism is easier, you get what you get. Yet no one is explaining why payment for output is being blocked in Cuba.
Under instructions from his editors, a reporter went to the Ministry of Economy and Planning to head off an avalanche of rumors in the schismatic and tendentious foreign press about the elimination of workplace cafeterias. The assignment was to confirm whether this was true (and if so, to find out why that action was taken) or if it was not (and to then obtain a rebuttal).
The minister delegated the task to his deputy minister, who in turn told the reporter he should consult with the minister on the matter… That’s where the game began, until the deputy minister finally admitted that this was an experiment under study, but that she did not want to report on that “for the time being.”
That same week an article appeared in Granma newspaper concerning the closure of the cafeterias, causing the reporter to feel deceived. Is this an example of “RoundTablelization” or “Granma-itis”? Could it be that Granma had ascended to the throne of the supreme majesty of information?
Examples abound about functionaries assuming the right to decide what can be reported, at least until they get the approval from above about news that is by then dead? Almost no one dares to speak to the press and carry out a mutually respective relationship without the consent of their superiors. Often this kowtowing hierarchy ascends several layers and to different institutions…until the news is buried by life itself.
A Delicate but Necessary Balance
It is true that information is a double-edged sword, because it reveals both the light and the dark holes of reality. But information is public property, and we cannot substitute it with endorsed opportune information, with virtual information, with information-propaganda or convenient information, kid glove information or however they want to call it. Information is information.
In any event, information-with all its shades, with all its differences- will always make us more effective and more revolutionary, more conscious of the historical moment, more capable of distinguishing the possible from the impossible, and more participative; because nothing, including information, can be cooked up from inner circles.
Every Cuban needs to look toward the future, to know what is happening, and not have to feel their way along blindly at the mercy of stale crumbs of information. Every Cuban needs to participate actively, to make proposals and be considered, to be able to weigh between good and bad, to have the ability to strengthen their Revolution.
Of course I won’t speak about the fault of journalists – some more fearless, others more weary and conformist. To the degree that this restricted and controlled model of informational politics persists, the result will be even more disenchantment and dormancy in our profession.
Without information, without the participation of the subjects of history, it is impossible to consciously lay the foundation of a fuller and more democratic socialism.
After all this, we are not going to slash the veins of the profession. The revolutionary journalist has to continue battling over here and over there. If the doors are slammed closed, this too can be news. An alternative in the face of such rigidity is to focus on occurrences as seen and experienced by other sources not so institutional or high up: the people – the principal pillar of this revolution. And to do this with commitment and seriousness.
Juventud Rebelde has produced a good track record and won prestige in this Cuban struggle against the demons of hijacked information. Will we go backwards? That’s the biggest challenge for this paper’s new management, which is still unknown, but which in the end is all of us.
A Havana Times translation